A Quiet Cacophony
The England based superstar artist trio, Troika, has been exhibiting in Seoul for a few months. Just west of Gyeongbuk Palace, Persistent Illusions is presented in the clinical white interior of Daelim Museum. The lobby tries to invoke a suave technological look (ala the Apple Store) but I couldn’t help but see it more as an antiseptic, the gritty complexity of the world held at bay. Like the Apple Store, merchandising is available to consume.
Hovering above is an installation piece that sets the mood for the whole show.
‘Cloud’ is composed of a multitude of disks, one side which are black, the other side a mirror, which flip at the will of a mechanical mind. While Sephiroth is conspicuously absent, everything shouts precision and attention to detail. All the little disks fit perfectly, no gaps, no delays or snags. Yet this magnificent mechanical mass holds a overtly oppressive overtones. Cold precision mocks its namesake, changing, not in shape or form but surface. The barren cloud is accompanied by constant clacking, an aspect of the aesthetic that was either overlooked or left to emphasize the manufactured nature. This cloud brings neither shade, nor rain, but spectacle and a soulless rain of noise and reflection. And that was only the lobby.
After handing over my ticket, I climbed into the troposphere.
Beyond the rainless cloud is ‘Falling Light’, a broad room of light machines that create an effect of light drops on the floor. While the play of light as water is intriguing, the mild whirring of the machines calls attention to the unnatural. Standing under the lights recall alien abduction scenes, while just focusing on the actual mechanisms on the ceiling are more reminiscent of a nuclear war.
Around the corner is a collection of various electric devices from various ages, all plugged into a nest of wires, all on. In the centre of this collection is the titular ‘Electric Probe’, presumably measuring the electric interference given off by the various devices. It’s an oddly mesmerising reflection of our technology and our dependence on electricity for our communication, work and entertainment. The set up, while on the one hand purely pragmatic, also sets up or reflects an odd audience/performer relationship. Traditionally the performer is at the centre sharing with the audience around her. Her, the central position of the performer is replaced by the one listening to the audience, and the cacophony of voices sing and shout out – not so much to be heard, but in their everyday actions. Our connected media has allowed each of us all to be both the audience and creators and curators of content. It’s a brave new world.
‘The Weather Yesterday’ is in the same room as ‘Electric Probe’ which is a mild annoyance – both adding and detracting from the experience. It adds to it in the way that it too is an electric contraption of lights, one more drop of the electric white noise of our lives. The piece taken on it’s own is fun mostly for it’s conceptual nature. It could be suggesting the irrelevance of nature for most of our lives. Most of us urban dwellers only venture outside when we hop between home and business, and even then only to get to our transportation conveyances. It could be a reminder of the ever transient past and memories of the mundane. It could also be a statement of the wasteful pointlessness we put into knowing and promoting mundane facts by removing it slightly from it’s actual purpose by a factor of 24 hours or 1.6 million miles through space.
Further through the stratosphere.
The third floor had an interesting theme of nature and chance. Hidden underneath is also the element of control. ‘Persistent Illusions’ is a fountain mimic with multi-colored ropes taking the place of the water. While the illusion of the fountain is mesmerising, the tangled mess underneath is more so. It reminds me of silly string and a snake in a box. Controlled at first, but quickly the nature of the strings make a jumble.
‘Light Drawings’ is much more natural. Produced by passing 50,000 volts of electricity over paper, these burned images are reminiscent of rivers or roots. Personally I am reminded of large maps following the natural terrain, not of our terrestrial sphere but of a temporary spark. It’s a reversal of our traditional notion of maps. While terrestrial maps are temporary representations, here the map lasts much longer than what it maps. Though really, the world around us changes, if imperceptibly, so really, maps of terrain generally outlast the specific state they map.
‘Small Bangs’ are various expansions of ink on wet paper. It’s an obvious parody of the Big Bang – where concentrated beginnings expand into more complex or varied patterns by merit of expansion into the void.
This contrasts nicely with ‘the Sum of All Possibilities’, a mobile consisting of long, thin, curved pieces rotating at various, though slow, speeds. Most often this results in what looks like a sphere, though. The gears are set for a twelve-minute cycle, so if you want to see transmutation of shapes, it might be worth your time. Skip it if you’re the impatient type.
‘Labyrinth’ seems to focus on flow through man-made spaces. Our desire to square things and fit them Tetris-like does not diminish the organic. The latter merely adapts to our machinations.
Einstein is quoted to have said that god does not play dice. Could it be the universe is probabilistic, or are the dice themselves loaded? While I have some thoughts on it myself, I’ll let you think about it yourself. Concepts of determinism aside, I’m particularly enjoyed the isomorphic landscape reminiscent of the terrain in SimCity 2000. Shades of not so sexual grey are created by not only the black and white die, but the determination of which number is showing. If any one of them were changed… it wouldn’t make a big difference. Yet with increased entropy the system would make less and less sense and eventually dissolve into white noise.
And then I made my final climb into darkness
The final floor is heavy with quiet. Where the lobby, a mere three floors down, was filled with sound and fury, this place is void and reflection. And so I entered ‘Arcade’.
The room itself feels like an ever receding darkness, pierced by columns of light that bend into etherial arches. My very presence there felt like an intrusion on holy ground. This space was where the finite meets the infinite, material with the non-physical, the profane with the divine. It is a place made for you to experience, yet forbidden at the same time. Walking down the aisle was communion with the eternal.
But then curiosity got the better of me. Touching art is taboo in galleries, but surely light emanations, being themselves incorruptible by my corporeal hands, would be okay to ‘touch’. So long as I don’t touch the devices emitting them, no? Well, the attendant quickly stepped in to politely ask me not to touch the light. At first I wondered why, but then I realised. Me playing with the light would change the other worldly experience of other people. I negotiated with the attendant – she let me experiment with the light provided I did not touch the actual apparatus and there were no other patrons in the room. I happily waited and bathed my hand in light, seeing how it was bent and reflected on the ceiling. The sense of wonder and discovery swelled in my chest. Wonder and Awe that leads to experimenting and understanding is vastly superior to wonder and awe that tries to preserve that feeling.
If you wish to visit Troika: Persistent Illusions, you still have a month left. Tickets are 5,000 won each the final day is October 12, 2014.
You can visit it at the Daelim Museum:
Seoul, Jongno-gu Tongui-dong 35-1
서울특별시 종로구 통의동 35-1